Jun. 5, 2012
I like the generosity of numbers.
The way, for example,
they are willing to count
anything or anyone:
two pickles, one door to the room,
eight dancers dressed as swans.
I like the domesticity of addition—
add two cups of milk and stir—
the sense of plenty: six plums
on the ground, three more
falling from the tree.
And multiplication's school
of fish times fish,
whose silver bodies breed
beneath the shadow
of a boat.
Even subtraction is never loss,
just addition somewhere else:
five sparrows take away two,
the two in someone else's
There's an amplitude to long division,
as it opens Chinese take-out
box by paper box,
inside every folded cookie
a new fortune.
And I never fail to be surprised
by the gift of an odd remainder,
footloose at the end:
forty-seven divided by eleven equals four,
with three remaining.
Three boys beyond their mothers' call,
two Italians off to the sea,
one sock that isn't anywhere you look.
It's the birthday of novelist Margaret Drabble (books by this author), born in Sheffield, England (1939). She's the author of 17 novels, most recently The Sea Lady (2006). And last year, she published a collection of her short stories, called A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman (2011).
Drabble has earned a reputation as a chronicler of contemporary England. In her novel A Natural Curiosity (1989), one character says, "England's not a bad country. It's just a mean, cold, ugly, divided, tired, clapped-out post-imperial post-industrial slag-heap covered in polystyrene hamburger cartons. It's not a bad country at all. I love it."
Today is the birthday of the novelist Rick Riordan (books by this author), born in San Antonio, Texas (1964). He's the child of teachers, and was a teacher himself. He became interested in Greek and Norse mythology as a teen, and he told his sons Greek myths as bedtime stories. When he ran out of myths, he began to make up his own. His first idea was the story of a young demigod in contemporary America, a half-human son of the god Poseidon. The boy, who has ADHD and dyslexia, learns his true parentage, and goes on a quest to retrieve Zeus's lightning bolt. Riordan's son Haley told him he should write it as a book, and that became The Lightning Thief (2005), the first book in the popular five-volume "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series for young adults.
Today is the birthday of Federico García Lorca (books by this author), born in Fuente Vaqueros, near Granada, Spain (1898). He was the son of a farmer and a classical pianist. In the 1920s, in Madrid, he became a member of Generación del 27, an artists' group that also included artist Salvador Dalí. It was during this period that he published his most famous book of poetry, Romancero Gitano (Gypsy Ballads) (1928), inspired by Andalusian and gypsy culture and music. The book made him a national celebrity, and was reprinted seven times during his lifetime.
In 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out, and the Nationalists didn't look favorably on his work or his liberal views. They dragged him from his home on August 16 and imprisoned him without a trial; two or three days later, they drove him to a hill outside of town and shot him. His body was never found.
Today is the birthday of broadcast journalist Bill Moyers (books by this author), born in Hugo, Oklahoma (1934). He's hosted several public affairs programs, and has become known for his in-depth, thoughtful interview series, including The Power of Myth and A World of Ideas. He's often an outspoken critic of the news media and advocate for media reform.
He currently hosts a one-hour weekly interview program Moyers and Company.
Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (books by this author) began its serial run in abolitionist newspaper, the National Era on this date in 1851. It ran in weekly installments for 10 months. It generated some interest among opponents to slavery, but it didn't reach a larger audience until it was republished as a book in 1852.
Many critics dismissed the novel as sentimental, and several characters gave rise to persistent stereotypes of African-Americans. Even so, it attracted thousands of Northerners to the abolitionist cause. The book sold 300,000 copies in the United States in its first year in print.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®